Bonnie Ruberg

Defining Digital

Professor Bonnie Ruberg is broadening the conversation around digital media, expanding our knowledge of the diverse cultures at the heart of technology and the individuals who use it. “Technology is inextricably linked to issues of gender and sexuality in the 21st century,” she says. “We use social media to state our pronouns; we download mobile apps to look for romantic or sexual partners; we post updates with our relationship statuses.” Her work explores how digital media shapes who we are, helping us build technology that promotes social justice and reflects a wide variety of individual human experiences.

Reclaiming Games

One area of Ruberg’s focus is advancing diversity in videogames, particularly with regard to women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. “Historically, games have been hostile to people who are different or who desire differently,” she says. “I am passionate about making games more inclusive — for instance, by encouraging developers to design games that feature LGBTQ characters more prominently, or by celebrating the work of designers who themselves do not fit the mainstream mold.” She is also lead organizer of the Queerness in Games conference, an annual gathering that brings game designers, players and activists together to fight discrimination and make the medium their own.

Advancing Impact

Ruberg’s scholarship brings queer theory (examining subjects from politics to history to literature through an LGBT-oriented lens) to computing, with significant potential impact. “I want to bring change to the video games industry, but I also want to change how we think about games,” she says. “Video games are not just for traditional ‘gamers.’ Games allow us to see the world differently.” She is also harnessing new technology to make visible the types of social issues that often go overlooked, for example, by developing an augmented reality app to address gender-based street harassment. “Digital media is an immensely powerful tool for self-expression,” she says. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of what it can do.”

“Debates about gender, sexuality, and race are transforming digital media, turning much-needed attention to the voices of those who have long been pushed to the margins.”

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